From a post to Baen's Bar Snerkers Only on 7/19/2010

Production implications of Oyster Bay

    All right, as I understand it there are two basic opposing viewpoints about the consequences of the Oyster Bay attack and Manticore's ability to rebound from it, both of which can be summarized as "David Weber totally screwed up."

    Opposing viewpoint #1: The Belter population of Manticore accounts for millions upon millions of skilled, highly trained workers who can be called upon to regenerate the lost workforce represented by the space stations in no time flat. Moreover, the fact that the original LACs for Minotaur were built in the Unicorn Yard in the Manticore B subsystem means there must be oodles of industrial capacity in the Unicorn Belt, and so, once again, the damage to Manticore's building capability is minimal. Or, at least, represents no more than a temporary setback which apparently will last only until a sufficient portion of the labor force in the Manticore B subsystem can be transferred into the Manticore A subsystem. Oh, and by the way, it would have been stupid to put the actual manufacturing facilities in space, so obviously all of the equipment was actually manufactured on the ground in huge plants which counter gravity then makes it cheap to ship up for assembly. Which, of course, means that we didn't actually kill any of the manufacturing labor force or destroy the heavy plant itself.  Therefore, David Weber totally screwed up because, in fact, Oyster Bay is nothing but a bump in the road.

    Opposing viewpoint #2: Since every single thing Manticore produces was produced in the space stations, the civilian Manticoran economy is going to come grinding to a halt as we run out of spare parts for air cars, air lorries, agricultural implements, etc. Apparently there is some belief that this will lead to famine, mass starvation, and anarchy. The Star Kingdom is thus doomed and all the Alignment has to do is sit back and wait for its ultimate collapse, assuming its demise isn't hastened by the military action of the Solarian League. And because of these hideous consequences for the civilians of the Star Kingdom, Oyster Bay therefore constitutes a de facto Eridani Edict violation. Therefore, David Weber totally screwed up because, in fact, he's just killed off the Star Kingdom 's planetary populations, or a sizable percentage thereof.


    First, let me point out that unlike anyone else I do know exactly where and exactly what Manticore's industrial base consisted of prior to Oyster Bay . Second, let me point out that Hamish Alexander and the other members of Elizabeth 's cabinet who were reporting and discussing the consequences of Oyster Bay are likewise familiar with the industrial capacity of their native star system and may be assumed to have the least a limited interest in accurately summarizing the situation for their head of state. Third, let me point out that I have already stated — on more than one occasion — that what happened to Sphinx as a consequence of Oyster Bay doesn't — I repeat, does not — constitute an Eridani Edict violation.


    I'm not going to go into incredible, gut wrenching detail at this point about either of these propositions. In series terms, Oyster Bay just happened. You guys do not have the complete perspective on it yet because — surprise! — the characters don't have the complete perspective on it yet. They're still trying to cope with what's happened. As that process continues, I may decide I want to modify things a little bit here and there around the edges, which is one reason I don't want to go into huge "nail-my-feet-to-the-floor" detail at this time, but I knew how I was going to deal with the consequences of Oyster Bay (and exactly who would be helping to do that) before I ever launched Oyster Bay.

    In response to Opposing Viewpoint #1. The Belter industry is primarily the extractive industry of the Manticore Binary System. For that matter, quite a few of the people who live out there live there not because they are directly involved in any sort of heavy industrial processes, but rather because they find it a congenial place to live, and because it's a fairly good place to do various kinds of research. In addition, the Belter communities tend to be even more… freewheeling and less constrained than the planetary societies of the Star Kingdom. In other words, you can think of some of the Belter habitats ("habitat" in the sense of some place to live) in some ways as one of the places the "getting away from the city" crowd moves to.

    Nonetheless, there are a lot of people in the Belter habitats who are, indeed, directly employed in supporting the Star Kingdom 's industrial capabilities. They are not, however, skilled shipyard workers, nano technicians, and cybernetics specialists. To go back to my earlier analogy about the loss of Boeing, Lockheed, North American, and Northrop and all of their skilled factory workers, the folks out in the Belter habitats are, overwhelmingly, coal miners, iron miners, and oilfield roustabouts. True, they are experienced in working in vacuum. They are also highly skilled when it comes to running the extraction boats and the resource refinery plants (steel mills, oil refineries, etc. [which I already told you were still in existence]). But they are not skilled in the specific sorts of highly technical processes which went on aboard Hephaestus and Vulcan. Undoubtedly a great many of them could be trained to handle those processes in time, and Elizabeth cabinet's already addressed that point. The Manticoran educational system still exists, it can still teach people, and it can still train people. The sort of apprentice, learn-by-doing, on-the-job training experience that it took literally decades to accrue will have to be accrued all over again, but there's no reason in the world why a significant percentage of Belter asteroid miners could not ultimately be retrained to become, say, skilled ship-fitters. It's going to take time, however, and if you divert significant numbers of them from what they already know how to do really, really well, you're going to have to train still other people to learn how to do what they already know how to do because of the voracious appetite for raw materials the rebuilding effort is going to produce. In other words, do you pull your people out of the iron mines and off the oilfield derricks and out of the steel mills and the oil refineries just at the time you need to rebuild your entire manufacturing sector from scratch?

    And, no, I didn't misspeak myself when I said that the industrial manufacturing went on on the space stations. You put heavy industry in orbit where you can take advantage of microgravity and you don't have to worry about environmental pollution and degradation. Where your manufacturing facilities and your assembly facilities are in handshaking distance of each other. Yes, you could manufacture the parts on a planetary surface and then ship them up on counter-grav shuttles. And, yes, counter-grav make shipping stuff from a planetary surface relatively (you should pardon the expression) dirt cheap. It doesn't make manufacturing stuff in a gravity well any less expensive or difficult, however. Why would any society which had the technological capability to move all of those icky, messy industrial processes out where they aren't going to bother anybody do exactly that? Especially if it's also cheaper and easier to build this stuff in microgravity in the first place? So that means that I really and truly meant what I said every other time I addressed the subject.

    Now, about the Unicorn Yard and the shipbuilding capability in Manticore B. People, the Unicorn Yard was in the space station that just got blown to dust bunnies along with most of its manufacturing staff. The term "Unicorn Yard" designates a specific industrial enterprise of the Hauptman cartel, it does not designate the existence of a complete, separate dispersed shipyard floating around somewhere in the Manticore B subsystem. Gryphon and its orbital industry were used to build top-secret prototypes, experimental vessels, and anything else that Manticore wanted to keep under the radar of the People's Republic of Haven in particular and the rest of the galaxy in general. It's kind of like the way the German Navy in both world wars worked it ships up to full efficiency in the Baltic, where it was able to provide greater security against outside threats and do so away from outside eyes. The Manties didn't have secret shipyards scattered around the system. The folks constructing those prototypes and experimental vessels built and worked out of Weyland, and if you go back and look at Minotaur's initial working up, you'll see that that was where she was based. So, no, there are not oodles of shipbuilding capability left in Manticore B, either. Nor are there scads of untouched trained industrial workers, aside from the folks who work in Manticore B's extraction industries.

    I've never said, and neither has Hamish Alexander or anyone else in Elizabeth 's cabinet, that Manticore could not recover from what happened to it. What I've said is that it will take them time, and a lot of it, to rebuild out of the shattered remnants of the industry still available to them. The problem isn't that they can't fix the problems in time any more than it was "impossible" for Germany or Japan to rebuild after World War II. The problem is that they're faced with having to rebuild while under attack by the Solarian League, and as Napoleon once said, "Ask me for anything but time." Trust me, they will be looking at every potential source of trained, semi-trained, or remotely trainable manpower, but every skilled worker they currently have is already doing something they're going to have a vital need for in the future, and the people who are still alive do not have the basic skill sets that the people who got killed had.

    All right, on to Opposing Viewpoint #2. There is actually more validity to this point than to the other one, but from what I seem to be hearing, people are going way, way overboard on it. Yes, the vast bulk of the Star Kingdom 's civilian industry was concentrated in the space stations. Yes, the vast bulk of that industry was destroyed along with the military shipyards and building facilities. Yes, the Star Kingdom is facing a decided and potentially serious shortage of spare parts, agricultural equipment, transportation infrastructure, etc.

    Now, having said all of that.

    First, it's going to be possible to keep a whole lot of vital equipment running through parts that were already in inventory in planet-side service facilities (and warehouses) for planet-side equipment. D'oh! Let's see, you keep the spare parts for the starships that never enter atmosphere in the first place on orbital facilities so that you can install them quickly and easily. You ship the spare parts for the air-breathing equipment down to the planetary surface where the air-breathing equipment lives, so that you don't have to ship every disk harrow up to orbit for repairs when it busts a blade. So the replacement parts inventory that got wiped out for the Navy didn't get wiped out for the Manticoran equivalent of the John Deere, Caterpillar, Peterbilt, and Chevy dealerships. I'm not saying there isn't going to be a serious crimp in the supply chain in the fullness of time; I'm simply saying that equipment isn't going to stop working next Tuesday. For that matter, it's going to be possible to cannibalize existing equipment in order to come up with spares to keep other equipment running, even if the spares shortage goes on for an extended period. (And, by the way, Honorverse equipment isn't built with a philosophy of designed obsolescence. It's designed to work for a long, long time without breaking in the first place.) Not only that, it will be completely feasible for the Star Kingdom to purchase equipment to deal with the vast majority of its planetary requirements from somewhere else. From, oh, I don't know, maybe the Andermani Empire, for example? Or their new buddies in Nouveau Paris? Or even from some of those planets they've acquired in the Silesian Confederacy and the Talbott Quadrant? Sure, a lot of their more advanced tech base will begin to contract if the spares shortage goes on long enough, but they can take up a lot of the slack with less sophisticated equipment which can then ultimately be retired when the better stuff becomes available out of native Manticoran industry once more. In short, there is no immediate (or sane long-range) prospect of the Star Kingdom of Manticore suddenly finding itself unable to feed itself or keep its planetary transportation system and/or power grid up and running. Obviously, the government is going to impose strict oversight of inventory and what light planetary industrial manufacturing capacity there is (and there is some), but aside from the strictly localized damage done by the debris impacts, the planets are in relatively good shape and will be for some time to come.

    Having said that, even if the planetary populations did find themselves facing starvation and anarchy as a consequence of Oyster Bay , the attack still would not even begin to approach an Eridani violation. Nobody carried out a genocidal attack on the surface of the planet without first summoning it to surrender. All damage — all damage — to the surface of the planet consists of collateral damage from an attack — a hit-and-run raid on what anyone would have to concede was a primary military, orbital target — which was fully legitimate (aside from being part of an undeclared war, and there is no absolute legal requirement for war to be declared under Honorverse interstellar law [even assuming there were any way someone could enforce such a ludicrous prohibition]). Manticore is pissed off about it, and Manticore has every intention of exacting full, thorough, and bloody vengeance as soon as it can get around to it, but not even anyone in the Star Kingdom (aside, possibly, from a few pablum-brained intellectuals) thinks for a moment that Oyster Bay constituted an Eridani violation.

    Okay. I'm sure that you endlessly inventive people can come up with something else to argue about. For that matter, I feel fully confident that I have not managed even now to drive a stake fully through the heart of either of these opposing viewpoints. After all, why give up a perfectly good argument just because the author tells you it isn't going to happen that way? [G] Nonetheless, trust me when I say that I actually do have a fairly clear idea of what's happening in my novels. Really, I do. Promise.